Capcom’s Monster Hunter games have never been as straightforward as that simple title suggests. Since the PlayStation 2, I’ve been a fan of the Monster Hunter series. In its original iteration, Monster Hunter was an RPG that disregarded conventional levels and instead relied solely upon the player’s skills and the gear they’ve crafted from various monster parts. In over a dozen years, the series has stayed true to that core concept while constantly adding in bigger and more badass monsters in each iteration. For most of those years, Monster Hunter’s main games have been limited to a handheld audience, given the climate of Japan’s gaming community (with notable exceptions including a port to WiiU among others). Capcom surprised and amazed fans with an HD title that brought Monster Hunter onto the most powerful consoles ever released, with a PC release to follow.
Monster Hunter: World puts as few obstacles as possible between you and the joyful act of stabbing its dazzling menagerie of hostile beasties in their various softer bits. At its heart is a very basic loop, one that compels even when it carries a whiff of mindless grind: Hunt the monster; use the monster’s parts to build new stuff; use that stuff to hunt a bigger monster; repeat until monsters are too big or equipment is suitably blinged out. Loading up World for the first time, you’re invited to design your character—and the aformentioned feline sidekick who’ll be serving as your companion and healer on hunts—but the real choices come a few minutes later. As a newly recruited hunter of the fifth fleet, the player is thrust into a world of towering beasts and behemoths, each more gargantuan and terrifying than the last. There’s an ever-changing ecosystem to the world that’s brought about by the sudden appearance of an elder dragon, the towering, building-sized wyverns that round out every Monster Hunter’s story.
That’s when players are introduced to one of the game’s biggest draws, and also one of the roughest potential friction points in an entry that’s doing its damnedest to be smooth as silk: its massive arsenal of weapon types. The decision between weapons like Long Sword (hit stuff), Switch Axe (hit stuff in order to build up a charge, then transform the weapon to unleash it and hit stuff even more), and Insect Glaive (fire an insect bullet that you have to separately raise and upgrade, suck out color-coded power-ups, and then hit stuff, all mid-fight) isn’t a trivial one; in a game where your equipment is what gets stronger, not your character, choice of weapon is everything. Luckily, the game does give some guidance—in the form of a training area and a rating for a given weapon’s overall complexity—but there’s a reason that World’s release was preceded by people passing around charts on Twitter, trying to help people make this pivotal pick. The weapon upgrade system, which encourages building up one increasingly powerful set through most of the early game, doesn’t help to alleviate the feeling of being locked into a single overriding choice.